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Wounded Soldier Anxious to Return to Operation Enduring Freedom

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 4, 2005 – After 15 months in Iraq and a deployment to Afghanistan that landed him in the hospital recovering from gunshot wounds, Army Sgt. Erik Aass is anxious to join his fellow soldiers in supporting what he considers an important cause.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Sgt. Erik Aass, an infantryman being treated for gunshot wounds received in Afghanistan, is anxious to join his fellow soldiers in supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. Photo by Diana Bahr
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

"It's tough to be on the sidelines," said Aass, an infantryman with the 173rd Airborne Brigade who's undergoing physical therapy in Vicenza, Italy. "You feel like you're letting your fellow soldiers down, not participating."

Aass, a native of Norway who gained his U.S. citizenship in 2004, said he's known almost since he first came to live in the United States at age 8 that he wanted to join the military. As an ROTC student at Fordham University in New York, he was the company commander of the local chapter of the National Society of Pershing Rifles, an organization dedicated to military and academic excellence.

Yet, when Aass graduated, he could not be commissioned as an Army officer because he wasn't yet a citizen.

Not to be deterred, Aass marched to the nearest recruiting station the same day he received his green card, enlisting in the Army on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States.

Since then, Aass has spent about half of his service deployed to Iraq, with the 1st Armored Division, then Afghanistan, with the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

While on a mission clearing out an apartment in the Oruzgan province of Afghanistan, Aass was shot in the left hand and right knee when an enemy fighter came out of a tunnel and opened fire. "I was very lucky," he said. "I received only tissue damage. It could have been a lot worse."

When he finishes his physical therapy in December, Aass is hopeful he'll be able to rejoin his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan.

"I strongly believe in the cause in both Afghanistan and Iraq," the sergeant said. "I think the people we're fighting against there are pure evil. The only thing that separates them from the Nazis is their incompetence. In fact, their views are even more extreme than the Nazis."

Aass said he's gratified by progress he witnessed in Afghanistan, from new, paved roadways where none existed, to young girls now attending school, to the elections he watched on TV while recovering. "Things are far from perfect," he said. "But it's good to see these things and recognize them as signs of what's happening in the country."

Watching this progress on the TV news that he closely monitors makes Aass itch to rejoin the effort.

But stepping back from personal involvement, at least until his wounds heel, has also given the sergeant insights into the American public that are beginning to cause him distress. "The American public is fickle," he said.

Aass said he fully supports the rights of those who oppose U.S. involvement in the war on terror. What he has a harder time dealing with, he said, are those who initially supported it, then "flip-flopped" when things began to get more challenging than they expected.

"Nobody is asking them to fight or anything," Aass said. "All we're asking is that they just don't quit on us."

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